Psychologists help people cope with change in ways that enlarge and nourish them. Perhaps the most important thing we do is witness our clients’ stories by the deceptively simple act of listening and observing. But that simple act became complicated when the COVID-19 pandemic thrust us overnight into the new territory of telemedicine.

The pandemic and quarantine were accompanied last year by unimaginable tectonic shifts in almost every aspect of life. Police violence, civil protests, and political unrest made us rethink our relationships with some of the most fundamental aspects of being human. …


Being able to hold opposing emotions is one of the hallmarks of good mental health. Something can be both bitter and sweet, and we tend to feel that we must pick sides. To our confusion, we often can’t stick with one or the other feelings — either getting pulled back and forth, or stuck in one or the other. Getting mired in the bitter side can lead to depression, but the sweet side has its own pitfall, such as denial about problems.

What does it take to hold the tension of the opposites? A willingness to acknowledge that we can…


There’s a plethora of information about happiness.

My literature search on this subject yielded over 13,000 scholarly research articles and over one thousand books. Advice about how to be happy floods the internet daily with simplistic listicles and click-bait articles that make it all seem so easy.

But their advice, like telling a sad person to think about all the reasons they shouldn’t be sad, or a depressed person to just get up and exercise, doesn’t work. Thinking about the good things in life can sometimes ameliorate sad feelings, but usually, trying to grasp at happiness when in the grip…


Last summer my neighbor’s son built a huge skate ramp right next to our property line. (We’re on different streets, so I’d never met him or his family.) First sawing, then drills, and eventually it was finished. I was glad for the wild Toyon bushes that grew high along a chain-link fence, blocking the view — but they didn’t block the noise. In use, a wooden skate ramp has a distinctive mechanical rhythmic sound. It’s similar to the poinging back-and-forth of a tennis match, but is contiguous and unvarying, except for sudden yelps from the kid or his friends.

My…


“Yesterday all day a small gardenia was a great consolation.”

Thomas Merton

A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals

Some days are harder than others. It’s tempting to find something or someone to blame, even if it’s just the wrong side of the bed. Yesterday, I woke up grumpy, but instead of fault-finding, I announced to my family that I was grumpy and not to take anything that happens between us too personally.

My bad mood persisted through breakfast. In fact, I kind of enjoyed feeling grumpy. Especially because there was no apparent reason and I didn’t…


Amor and Psyche

Taking Down the Walls to Intimacy

Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

Sometime during the first episode of BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, I fell in love with Mr. Darcy. So much so that my husband began to suffer in comparison. And why not? Darcy is handsome, rich, and unobtainable, not to mention the British accent and dark brooding eyes. But it was his radical transformation from an arrogant snob to a thoughtful, considerate gentleman who fiercely protects his beloved his sister that sealed…


People are innately attracted to faces, especially eyes. The human face is associated with our identity; we are recognized more through our eyes than through any other facial feature. ”Because the eyes offer such rich social information, adults and infants alike show a natural attraction to the whole face,” write contributors to the APA handbook of nonverbal communication (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2016, pp. 335–362). …


Photo by Marcelo Quinan, Unsplash

For three months, I’ve resisted writing. I sat at my desk or the kitchen table — my favorite place to write — to compose an essay, but distraction beckoned me at every turn. The muse, that slippery, elusive impulse to create words from experiences and observations, had gone missing. Each week I’d tell myself that I’d write over the weekend, and Sunday night would come with nothing to show.

Wonderful ideas came at moments in my psychotherapy work, or on a hike, or in conversations with friends. I had flashes of insight, but writing them down was the tricky part…


Photo by Jordan McQueen, Unsplash

We seldom deliberately present a bad face on social media. Selfie stick in hand, we depict ourselves smiling before an elaborate, expensive meal, in front of a landmark in an exotic land, or simply celebrating with friends (which all can see, including those not fortunate enough to be present in those moments). Accumulating ubiquitous likes and thumbs-up is gratifying in the way that cotton candy is: briefly sweet, but fading quickly as the posts scroll by. …


My daughter posted this photo and comment on her Facebook page after purchasing her textbooks for winter term. She is a full-time senior at a university and works part-time at an independent bookstore. Yet she can’t get enough of reading and learning. Her twin is equally passionate about learning. After seeing my daughter’s Facebook post, I reflected on what we did to encourage and support their love of learning.

We survived the homework battles and our daughters are now months away from finishing their undergraduate degrees. It wasn’t always easy. We didn’t have many of the challenges that some families…

Susan O'Grady, Ph.D.

Dr. Susan O'Grady, Clinical Psychologist, Marriage and Couples Counselor. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Instructor.

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